Last month (see “Hospital-Focused Practice,” Septem-ber 2011, p. 61), I discussed the adoption of the hospitalist model of practice by many specialties, some of the common issues they face, and highlighted a national meeting to examine this phenomenon (for more information on the meeting, visit www.hospitalmedicine/hfpm). This month, relying mostly on my own experience with this practice model, I’ll drill deeper into OB hospitalists (also known as laborists). While there are a lot of ways in which hospitalist practice in many specialties are the same, laborists differ from those in other fields in important and interesting ways.
One of the most informative sources about the “laborist movement” is ObGynHospitalist.com, a website started and managed by Dr. Rob Olson, an enterprising laborist in Bellingham, Wash. As of July, the site listed 132 laborist programs nationwide (and that figure likely underestimates the actual number in operation). A survey of registered users of the website in April yielded 106 responses, representing a 24% response rate. Seventy-five of the respondents indicated they were full-time laborists.
Because obstetric malpractice costs are so high, and many lawsuits are related to delayed response to obstetric emergencies, there is hope (not much hard proof yet) that outcomes will be better, and lawsuits less common or less costly.1 So the hope of reduced malpractice costs figures more prominently into the cost-benefit analysis of the OB hospitalist model than most other types of HM practice.
It appears that all hospitalist models require financial support over and above professional fee revenue. Hospitals usually are willing (happy?) to provide this money because they can make back even more as a result of increased patient volume/market share or lower costs. And, as is the case for hospitalists in other specialties, laborist presence can be an asset in recruitment and retention of other OBGYNs.
I think the most interesting feature of laborist practice is that in many settings, it has the potential to open new sources of revenue—both hospital “facility fee” and professional fee revenue. A common practice in many hospitals is for obstetricians to send patients, or for them to self-present, to labor and delivery to be checked for a cold, vomiting, or whether labor has started. Many times, a nurse performs these checks, communicates with a doctor, then discharges the patient—and no bill is generated. An on-site laborist can see the same patients (presumably making for a higher-quality visit for the patient) and, assuming the visit is medically necessary, both a facility and professional charge can be submitted. Revenue from such visits can go a long way toward making up the difference between the total cost of the laborist program and fee collections. This adds to patient safety, as each patient is evaluated in person by a physician rather than only a nurse.
In most settings, the laborist submits a charge for delivery only for unassigned patients. For those patients who “belong to” another OB who provided prenatal care, it is often most practical for that doctor to submit the global fee for prenatal care and delivery, and to pay the laborist program an agreed-upon rate for each service provided.
Laborists often are paid an hourly rate, and they typically don’t have a salary component tied to work relative-value unit (wRVU) production or other productivity metrics. Total annual compensation is typically lower than private-practice OBGYN physicians. It also varies widely, depending on local market forces, job description, and workload. Most programs are trying to implement meaningful quality bonuses for laborists.